Category: Card Analysis

The Unsung Counter-measures

This past Saturday I decided to run a new squad at the Games and Stuff Store Championship in Glen Burnie. The classic Fel-Vader-Palpatine list is nice, but I wanted to do something a little different, making use of everyone’s most (or least) favorite TIE/fo pilot, Omega Leader. He’s dirt cheap, coming in at just 29 points with Comm Relay, Juke, and a Stealth Device, which is a couple points cheaper than Vader. But, I chucked Soontir out instead. I prefer Vader’s guaranteed crit, cheaper cost, and wanted him at PS 11 with Veteran Instincts. That left quite a number of points to play with. With ATC and VI on Vader, and a Sensor Jammer and Palpatine on the Shuttle, there were 7 points remaining. I took Stealth on Vader (we can debate that versus Engine another time).

For the shuttle, I ultimately decided on Counter-measures.

Yes, Counter-measures. It’s a real card. I promise. Go look it up. It’s probably the shim you’re using to keep your gaming table from wobbling.

3 point modification. At the start of combat you can discard it to increase your agility by 1 for the round and shake off a Target Lock.

My basic reasoning was pretty simple. If it helped me negate just 1 damage, it would have paid for itself as a Hull Upgrade. If it did any better than that, well bully for me. With folks like Omega Leader becoming more popular, losing that TL is especially handy. I’ve also seen enough rounds where Palpatine goes unused, saved for defense and then the shuttle rolls a natural evade. The second die is handy there. With 2 dice, a focus token, Sensor Jammer, and Palpatine, the shuttle can withstand a fair bit of incoming fire, for one round at least.

This is where the real benefit of Counter Measures comes in. A shuttle surviving 1 extra round generally means surviving 2 or 3 more, if not longer. Despite a lousy dial, it’s still fast like any other large base ship, it often doesn’t care really where it lands so long as no one is shooting it, it’ll brave rocks to get clear of enemies, and the stop maneuver really gums the enemy up. A missed chance to kill the shuttle is not easy to immediately follow up on.

That was the theory, and in practice in indeed worked as intended. In some games it wasn’t necessary, as the shuttle is often ignored. But, when it was getting focused down, only one time did the Counter Measures not help, and that was against a barrage of 3 TLT Y-Wings with Aggromechs.

In my third game, the shuttle had 3 TIE Advanceds with Accuracy Corrector shooting at Range 1. It took 3 total damage.

In my sixth game, Whisper had previously shot at the shuttle and had a Target Lock from Fire Control System. She then decloaked forward and K-turned behind the shuttle. If I recall correctly, it was a Range 1 shot. The shuttle popped the Counter-measures, shook the lock, and Whisper only got 2 natural hits, 1 converted into a harmless eyeball by the Sensor Jammer. 1 damage from a Range 1 shot from a (previously) target locked Phantom ain’t bad.

In the end, I’d say there’s a real case to be made for Counter-measures on the shuttle. There’s also a good argument for Engine Upgrade or a cannon. I’m not saying what’s the superior choice, and I think your local meta will make some difference (obviously C-M goes up in value around Omega Leader, Advanced Targeting Computers, and ordinance). My point is just that the upgrade is entirely viable. I was #4 out of 77 at the end of Swiss, though I lost in the first round of elimination to the eventual winner. Both of my losses that day were to Palpatine + Whisper and another ace (Omega or Vader).

With the Inquisitor on his way, coming in at only 29 points with VI and Autothrusters, the Palpatine + 2 Aces lists will probably be finding quite a bit more room for some additional hardware on the shuttle. Can definitely do worse.

“Must Have” Upgrades And Their Alternatives

Big caveat first. I’m not saying any of these upgrades are bad. Only that there are in fact viable alternatives, no matter how “necessary” someone tells you they are.

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the most common must-have upgrades, and some alternatives to the conventional wisdom.

 

1. Millennium Falcon with the Millenium Falcon Title

Yeup, let’s get the hate mail in right at the start. These two cards seem to be perfect for each other. I mean, I didn’t even bother calling the ship a YT-1300. It’s The Falcon. And with the title costing only 1 point, why would you ever leave home without it? Because you only get one action, that’s why. If you’re also running Engine Upgrade, you’ve now got 2 upgrades that cost 5 points and you can only use one of them in any given turn. It’s great to have options, but remember that you’re paying for those options. I’ve had plenty of games flying Fat Han where my most common action was Focus (necessary for shooting down high agility ships).

Alternative: 1 point.

There’s no other title possible, so the real option is just having another point to spend, either for a better upgrade (perhaps Luke over Gunner if you’ve got a second point to spare) or for an initiative bid to give you a leg up over Soontir, Whisper, and VI Jake. (On that note, VI Jake is now very popular in the Nova meta, and forcing him to move first really shuts him down.)

 

2. Corran Horn with R2-D2

When I first started playing X-Wing, I immediately put R2 on Luke, as I imagine many players do. And I learned what a lot of people have learned, that the X-Wing has some not-so-great green maneuvers. The 1-straight is handy, but being limited to greens makes you very predictable.

The E-Wing on the other hand has some more options, especially if you throw on Engine Upgrade and give Corran Fire Control System for offensive action economy. R2-D2 is much better on Corran, but he still restricts your movements and is pretty expensive.

Alternative: R5-P9

With Corran’s low hit points, of course you want a regeneration droid. People call him “Fake R2,” but really he’s just a very different upgrade. He lets you regen shields no matter what maneuver you take (except K-turns, but R2 doesn’t work there either). This lets Corran pull turns instead of running away and can make him a lot less predictable.

There’s a few downsides, of course. You regen at the end of the turn instead of the start. You can’t use your Focus for offense, and you don’t regen if you used it on defense. And, if you get bumped you’re not regenerating, while R2 is guaranteed.

On the other hand, Corran can have 2 hits come at him, roll 1 evade and two blanks, and then turn the unspent Focus right back into a shield and be at full health before the next turn starts.

And let’s not forget the lesson about the Falcon. If you’re constantly taking a Focus action, you’re not going to be boosting, so an Engine Upgrade with R5-P9 may be a waste of points. You can either spend those points elsewhere, or give him a Stealth Device instead.

 

3. Proton Rockets + Veteran Instincts on Jake

With Jake’s amazing action economy, he’s a perfect platform for Proton Rockets. Focus to Boost into range, then Push the Limit for a Target Lock and watch your enemies vaporize. He takes Veteran Instincts to be PS9 and is cheap enough for a strong initiative bid. The common Fat Han + Jake list comes it at just 97 points.

Alternative: Refit + Outmaneuver

Crazy talk! I know. But this Jake is 3 points cheaper, making him viable in a lot more squads. If you’re running triple aces, having one this cheap is necessary.

You’re giving up that big alpha strike, but increasing Jake’s offensive power on regular turns. Nerfing your opponent’s defense is a great way to make those 2 red dice effective. Outmaneuver spells death for Fat Han and Kenkirk+Emperor. It’ll help you burn down Miranda (especially with C3PO) before she can regen shields. And in general, the skill makes your opponent a lot more worried about where he points his ships.

 

4. Moldy Crow + Recon Specialist on a HWK-290

This combo is common enough that there are now custom Moldy Crow holders for the d20 you’re using to keep track of all the Focus you’ve banked.

And you know what? If you’re using a d20 to keep track of your Focus tokens, you’ve overspent on your HWK.

Alternative: Jan Ors

She won’t help you build up a bank of Focus tokens, but unless you’re using a Blaster Turret, you don’t really need them. All it takes is a bit of smart positioning and early turn management to get enough tokens on the HWK.

What Jan does is let you make your HWK into a serious tank. 2 green dice + multiple Focus + Evade will eat a lot of red dice before going down. Oh, it’ll still go down, but it will now take a lot more time and dedication from your opponent. Plus, she’s a point cheaper than Rec Spec, and can be used to buff other ships that don’t have a native Evade. Or, for a lot of fun, she can let a ship that’s using Push the Limit to Focus+Evade take 2 Evade tokens instead.

Second Alternative: Lando

Personally, I’d never consider this in a serious tournament. He’s too unreliable to lead you to a win streak. But for a casual game, why not? (Because 2 green dice produce on average 1/2 of a Focus, that’s why not. But again, this is more of a for-fun alternative.)

Third Alternative: 3 points.

Just ditch the Rec Spec or the Title (I’d prefer keeping the Title, but Rec Spec is probably better for longer games). You don’t need infinite Focus, and there’s probably someone on your squad who can put those 3 points to better use, or it can let you give your HWK pilot Predator, which is great for nailing those Ion Cannon shots.

 

5. Stealth Device on Soontir Fel

We’ve all seen Super Soontir, Royal Guard Title, Push the Limit, Autothrusters and Stealth Device. Amazingly hard to kill. In my last tournament I blocked him with a Test Pilot, and let Jake 1-shot him with Proton Rockets. But, you know, normally amazingly hard to kill.

The alternative: Shield Upgrade

One of the biggest weaknesses for Soontir is Darth Vader. Put him on a Decimator with Gunner, and it’s lights out for Soontir, often killing him in a single round of shooting. Shield Upgrade protects against that, often discouraging the use of Vader at all. The shield is also more useful against auto-hit effects like Autoblaster and Ten Numb. And, with the Emperor and the Advanced Targeting Computer out there, protecting Soontir from crits is going to be even more important.

Proton Rockets: Best Offense is a Strong Defense

A few weeks ago I hung up my XXX list after 50+ tournament games and built a Han + Jake squad that I’ve been having a ton of success with (26-6 overall, with four 3-0 tournaments). One of the key elements in the list is Jake’s Proton Rockets, and games are often won or lost based on how they’re used. And wow, some of the tips I’ve gotten from people about how to use them have been awful.

Here’s the conventional wisdom: Jake is nothing more than a missile platform and he’s worth sacrificing if he can get his rocket shot off.

In about half of my games, having Jake around in the late game has been absolutely crucial. Rather than sacrificing him to get the rocket shot, I’ve found it’s much better to sacrifice the rocket damage to keep Jake alive. His ability to sneak in behind people in the late game and just pound in 3 dice TL+Focus attacks turn after turn cannot be overlooked.

 

If you’ve ever used Proton Rockets without Target Lock, then you know that you really need Target Lock. So, what most people will end up doing is taking Focus (then if it’s Jake, boosting into range) and push the limit for Target Lock. You take the shot, reroll the blanks, spend the Focus, and get 4-5 hits pretty consistently.

In a lot of situations, I feel that this is a mistake. What’s been working for me is using the Target Lock to reroll both the blanks and the eyes, and keeping my Focus for defense. I may give up a couple damage, but I keep Jake alive, and he will more than make up for it in the late game.

There are of course some exceptions. If no one has a shot on Jake, naturally he puts in all the damage he can. If I need the extra damage to get a kill, I’m more willing to let Jake take some damage. If Jake is still at full strength, I’m a little more aggressive with him. And, if my first roll has a crit or two in it, and I need to overcome defense dice or strip off shields to punch the crit through, then spending Focus can make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is closing into Range 1 of a Decimator with Gunner and Vader and leaving Jake without defensive tokens. And that may seem obvious in internet theory crafting land, but with a Han+Jake list, you’re often in a broadside battle against a Decimator, and you need to kill RAC before Han loses his shields and starts taking crits every single turn. Getting 1 or 2 more damage on a Decimator can swing those fights, but I think you really need to resist the temptation. By protecting Jake, you get the option to have Han run away once he’s wounded, and let Jake finish off the Deci by himself at Range 2-3. (Ysanne makes this difficult, as you need to roll 2 hits just to do 1 damage, but Jake with Focus+Evade+Autothrusters can survive a lot of rounds of shooting. Just be patient.)

With K-Wings an Twin Laser Turrets soon entering the scene, it’s going to be even more important to think about how to keep your arc dodgers alive. And while it’s really tempting to get an early kill on a K-Wing, you have to ask if you’re willing to trade 25% of your hit points for just 11% of theirs, or 6% of a Decimator’s. That math just doesn’t add up.

 

One final thing to consider with the Proton Rockets is simply not firing them. How important is it in this round of combat that you do an extra 2 damage? If you fly Han+Jake like I do, let Han shoot first so you know precisely how important it is, but if you’re not going to get a kill and are unlikely to get a crucial crit, consider saving them for another time. It’s not like Jake isn’t ever going to get Range 1 again.

Keeping the rockets means they’re still out there as a threat. A lot of people will fly deliberately to avoid allowing a rocket attack. You want to keep them doing that. They’ll go faster than they want, and spend actions on Boost and Barrel Roll more instead of Focus and Target Lock. Let them do it, and then only fire the rockets when you’re moving in for the kill.

The exception to this is of course Corran Horn with Veteran Instincts and Engine Upgrade (or RAC with VI and EU, or really any PS10 with movement actions). If you get that shot, you take it, because you won’t ever get it again.

But in general, remember that Jake does 0 damage when he’s dead. The best offense is often a strong defense.

Jake vs. Soontir

Typically the rebel pilot to compare with Soontir is Tycho. Both Soontir and Tycho are the top of their class and love taking stress. Tycho is even Soontir’s former pupil. However, what really distinguishes Soontir is his unique triple action ability. He can take any two actions with Push the Limit, and receive a free Focus token for his efforts (and one action can be a Focus, getting him two Focus tokens). Tycho doesn’t have that triple action economy, instead stuck always with just two actions. Tycho’s benefit is the use of the full range of his dial (minus K-turns), rather than always being stuck on green maneuvers, but unlike the interceptors, Tycho doesn’t have a Barrel Roll action.

If you want Soontir’s triple action, with Barrel Roll being an option, you need to go down the ranks to Jake Farrell. With Push the Limit and Jake’s native talent, he can take three actions, so long as one is a Boost or Barrel Roll. So now let’s see just how these two slippery pilots compare, starting with the stat line. We’re going to be assuming the two common builds: Soontir w/ Royal Guard Title, Autothrusters, Stealth Device, Push the Limit; Jake w/ Test Pilot Title, Autothrusters, Push the Limit, Veteran Instincts, Proton Rockets.

Soontir’s major advantage is 3 red dice, compared to Jake’s pitiable 2. To make up for this, Jake takes the massive Proton Rocket 5 die attack. This is where his triple action really shines. He can Focus, and use that to boost into Range 1, then Push to take a Target Lock, giving him a massive attack. (He can also use the TL to reroll eyes, just in case he needs the Focus to defend with.)

Jake’s major advantage is his hit points. He has 1 more total HP than Soontir, with two of those being shields. However, Soontir’s extra green die from Stealth does make them a bit closer on defense.

Then there’s cost. A fully equipped Jake is 33 points, while Soontir comes in at 35. Depending on what else is in your squad, those two points can make a big difference. [There’s also the option to ditch the Rockets for a Refit and bring Jake down to a lean 28 points, but it really cuts into his offensive ability. If you ditch the Rockets, it’s probably better just to go with the evasive Gemmer for just 25 points outfitted with Autothrusters and Push the Limit, or a Green Squadron for 22.]

 

Soontir and Jake’s stat lines only tell half the story. Where the real differences become apparent is in the meta.

Fat Han: Soontir has the clear advantage. With an Evade token from the Falcon title and C3PO guaranteeing 1 Evade result, Jake can’t deal damage from Range 2-3, and at Range 1 he’s incredibly vulnerable to Han sporting a Gunner crew. Soontir on the other hand can stay at range 2-3, plinking away 1 hull point at a time while Han’s 3 red dice prove ineffective.

Decimator: If Ysanne is onboard, Jake is going to have more trouble doing damage than Soontir, but unlike with Fat Han, it’s not mathematically impossible. (Kenkirk, Ysanne, and Palpatine though will render Jake useless.) But, if Vader is onboard, Jake is the winner. The Vader+Gunner combo puts 2 crits on Soontir, no matter how many Evade results he rolls. Jake’s shields earn their keep here. Jake can also fire off his rockets against a Decimator, clearing its shields in a single strike and leaving it vulnerable to crits. Soontir could do the same at Range 1 (where Jake would need to be), but his odds of a 4 hit result are much lower. Jake would sacrifice some defense to pull it off, but with his shields it’s a risk he can take.

Rebel Swarms: Soontir’s extra red die lets you rip through rebel ships a little bit faster, but Jake’s 2 dice are still enough to add up over time (do keep an eye on the clock). Jake’s Proton Rockets are very strong here, with the ability to clear an X-Wing or Z-95 out in one shot. It’s also good for removing a troublesome B-Wing or Y-Wing early to get a quick advantage. Jake and Han can potentially kill an 8 hit point ship before it can ever attack. (But, with Jake it’s probably smarter to hang back a bit, and only move in to rocket a B or Y that’s already been wounded.)

Doom Shuttle: Here again Jake is the winner. Vader is extremely dangerous to Soontir, while Jake can tear through half the shuttle’s hit points in a single shot, making Vader much less appealing to use.

Brobots: Advantage Soontir. With 88C giving a free Evade token and the 88s boosting into Range 3 a lot for Autothrusters, Soontir’s extra attack die becomes very important. Like with Fat Han, Jake has trouble doing any amount of damage — at Range 3, Jake needs the 88s to roll 4 eyeballs. There’s less than one half of one percent chance at that.

Corran Horn: Corran’s 3 green dice, Evade action, and ability to recover shields (with the popular R2-D2 build) makes it extremely hard for Jake to put damage on. So again, we see an advantage with Soontir’s extra attack die. However, with only 5 hit points on an E-Wing, Jake has the ability to put in a very devastating attack with the Proton Rockets. If anyone else in the squad can follow up with another shot, you can take out Corran in one round. The trouble is that Corran regularly is given Veteran Instincts, making him Pilot Skill 10. Jake will rarely be able to close into rocket range. In this case, Soontir has the advantage, especially since his Focus-Focus-Evade action can let him survive Corran’s infamous double tap.

Control: The difference in how their action economies work gives Jake a big advantage against ion cannons and stress effects. Soontir basically has the option of 1 action or 3 and a stress. Jake on the other hand can take 2 actions without a stress, taking a Focus and then a free movement action. This lets him remain very effective while not exposing himself to the threat of a double stress. The ability to remain stress-free also helps against ion cannons, since the 1 forward is a white maneuver. He can get ioned, and still perform an action, while Soontir would be stuck with his pants down.

Carnor: Soontir definitely wins here. The ability to Barrel Roll to get out of Range 1 or arc dodge is pretty clutch. Jake is left only with his Boost option. An A-Wing that can’t arc dodge is just an expensive Z-95.

Jake does have a very fun trick to ruin Carnor’s day though. If he’s just outside of Range 1, he can Focus and then Boost into Range 1, Push the Limit to Target Lock. Proton Rockets do not require you to spend your Focus token, so he can still fire them, getting a 5 die + Target Lock attack against Carnor.

Palob: This one’s tough, possibly a draw. Jake can take two actions (so long as one isn’t Barrel Roll) without giving Palob a token to eat. His ability to Target Lock is pretty useful. On the other hand, Soontir can Barrel Roll without giving up a Focus token. Soontir can also turtle up, give Palob a token, but still have 2 to use for himself. Jake can only leave himself with 1.

With two red dice and a Target Lock, Jake has a 56% chance of landing 2 hits. With 3 unmodified red dice, Soontir has a 50% chance of at least 2 hits. Slight advantage to Jake there, but Soontir also has a 1/8 chance of landing 3 hits. Jake is slightly more reliable, while Soontir has slightly higher average damage.

Unlike Carnor, Palob completely shuts down Jake’s ability to fire his proton rockets, so no chance to slip in and one-shot the fragile HWK.

 

One final thought: This is a very rarely used aspect of Jake’s ability, but he can activate his free movements outside of the normal action window. Lando can give him a free action, effectively giving Jake Advanced Sensors (plus a regular action after moving), and Cracken can let Jake move early in the combat phase. You don’t see this much though because these free actions work only at Range 1. Garven Dreis can help Jake, passing tokens at range 1-2, but since Dreis is only PS6, Jake will have already fired and the move doesn’t help a whole lot. The best support for out of turn movement would be Kyle Katarn flying a HWK with either the Moldy Crow title or a Recon Specialist. The timing (start of combat) is excellent, and Range 1-3 is easy enough to maintain. Jake can now Focus, Boost, be assigned a Focus from Kyle, and Barrel Roll, then Push the Limit and Evade or Target Lock. Very powerful combo, and it frees up an EPT slot. Being able to adjust your position at the start of combat means Veteran Instincts is less necessary. Jake can take Outmaneuver or Calculation instead.

Tarn Mison, the Anti-Biggs

Last night I got to play against a rebel 5 ship list featuring Tarn Mison, one of the least popular named pilots in X-Wing. He is seriously underrated.

For the unfamiliar, his ability is that whenever a ship declares an attack against him, he may acquire a target lock on that ship. He’s a natural partner for the R7 droid, which allows you (once per turn) to spend a target lock defensively to force your opponent to reroll attack dice of your choosing. Combined, they’re a mere 25 squad points.

I was flying a Fat Han list, and my opponent flew Tarn very aggressively. Having flown X-Wings for a while, I know how fragile they can be, and I really wanted to deprive his squad of Tarn’s 3 and 4 dice attacks. But every time I considered it, two possibilities ran through my head:

(1) I land a great attack, and am forced to reroll all my dice, turning it into a mediocre attack. I could have shot something else instead without the nerfed dice.

(2) I get mediocre attack dice, and Tarn chooses to keep his Target Lock, using it to modify his return attack. An X-Wing at Range 1 with Focus and Target Lock is exceptionally scary. (Tarn’s low Pilot Skill really pays off here.)

Neither outcome was particularly good, and with 5 hit points, Tarn would take multiple rounds of shooting to kill. There were always better options on the board. And that’s what makes Tarn the anti-Biggs. Rather than being a ship you have to shoot at, Tarn becomes a ship you’re best off not attacking.

He has his weaknesses, of course. Against lower Pilot Skill ships (BBBBZ) he poses less offensive threat. Squads that can put out enough damage to kill him before he can return fire (Howlrunner with Black Squad swarm, 4x Dagger B-Wing) should clear his 3 red dice off early. Arc dodgers dodge arcs. But, you can’t expect a 25 point ship to beat everything in the meta. All in all, a pretty solid value.